What A Teenager Dying of Cancer Taught Me About Leadership

This is a guest post by Matt Tenney. As an author and a speaker, Matt shares insights from his journey as a prisoner, monk, and social entrepreneur. He teaches leaders how to improve by focusing on service to others. You can also follow him on Twitter.

As inspired as I often am by the heroes I meet through the work I do with Kids Kicking Cancer, I never thought that I would learn incredible lessons about leadership from a patient in a pediatric cancer unit. But earlier this year, that’s exactly what happened.

I had the pleasure of meeting a teenager named Daniel. It didn’t take long to realize that he is one of the most kind, polite, and positive people I have ever met. He has also lived an incredibly challenging life.

Years ago, he was diagnosed with cancer. He had surgery, went through the hell of chemo and radiation therapies, and left the hospital free of cancer thinking that he would live the rest of his life without having to worry about it.

But, within a couple years, the cancer came back. He went through the hell again, and again left the hospital thinking he was finally done with being sick.

This time, though, when the cancer came back, it was everywhere. He was told that there was nothing that could be done to treat it and that he would probably only live a few more months. I spent time with him minutes after he had received this news. It was obvious that he had cried.

It’s OK for leaders to cry.

He told me that he hadn’t started to cry until he saw his mother crying. Apparently, being told you’re going to die is not that bad. What really hurts, he said, is seeing those you love deal with the fact that they’re going to lose you soon.

Despite this news, Daniel still came to the class I led that day. In fact, he was the first to arrive and the last to leave. He was incredibly positive during the class and was a great role model for the younger students.

Great leaders continue to lead by example even when things are really, really tough.

Quotes on Hope

Photo by dailyjoke23 on flickr.

Napoleon Bonaparte once said, “A leader is a dealer in hope.”  When I think of inspirational leaders, I can honestly say Napoleon was right. We admire people who plant the seeds of hope. We gladly follow the leader who is able to awaken a sense of expectation inside of us. And, whether we lead at home or at work, hope is an essential element of success.

Here are some of my favorite “hope” quotes.

A leader is a dealer in hope. –Napoleon

The natural flights of the human mind are not from pleasure to pleasure, but from hope to hope. –Samuel Johnson

Before you give up hope, turn back and read the attacks that were made upon Lincoln. –Bruce Barton

Faith has to do with things that are not seen and hope with things that are not at hand. –Thomas Aquinas

9 Qualities of the Servant Leader

Photo by Michael W. May on flickr.

Leading With Others in Mind

At first blush, you may think a servant leader literally takes on the role of a servant. Taken to an extreme, that definition would look like this:

As you pull into work, the leader meets you at your car, opens your door, and welcomes you to the office.  Maybe the leader gets you coffee mid-morning and drops by in the afternoon to see if you need anything.  When you need assistance on a project, or maybe just someone to do the grunt work, there your leader is, waiting for you.

No, that isn’t servant leadership.


“Servant leaders lead with others in mind.” -Skip Prichard


Servant leadership is a blend and balance between leader and servant. You don’t lose leadership qualities when becoming a servant leader.

A servant leader is one who:

1. Values diverse opinions.

A servant leader values everyone’s contributions and regularly seeks out opinions.  If you must parrot back the leader’s opinion, you are not in a servant-led organization.


“Servant leaders regularly seek out opinions.” -Skip Prichard


2. Cultivates a culture of trust.

People don’t meet at the water cooler to gossip. Pocket vetoes are rejected.


“Servant leaders cultivate a culture of trust.” -Skip Prichard


3.  Develops other leaders.


The replication factor is so important.  It means teaching others to lead, providing opportunities for growth and demonstrating by example.  That means the leader is not always leading, but instead giving up power and deputizing others to lead.


“Servant leaders give up power and deputize others to lead.” -Skip Prichard


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4.  Helps people with life issues (not just work issues).

It’s important to offer opportunities for personal development beyond the job.  Let’s say you run a company program to lose weight, or lower personal debt, or a class on etiquette.  None of these may help an immediate corporate need, but each may be important.